Agencies explain, advise on impact of flood maps

Staff Writer

SAYREVILLE — An open house that offered residents a chance to examine the new federal Flood Insurance Rate Maps held nothing but good news for Mary Horezga and her son, Andrew.

Horezga, a South Amboy resident who lost her home to superstorm Sandy, said she was delighted to learn that the design for her new home meets the new federal standards and her flood insurance bill would be substantially lower.

“We’re seeing forward motion. We’re seeing things on paper. … And we’re looking forward to getting those building permits real soon,” she said. “When things like this happen after 28 months of being totally displaced, it’s big.”

Although the road to recovery has been long, Horezga said she was heartened at the prospect that construction on her new home would soon be underway.

“It’s been a slog,” she said at the forum, which took place Jan. 29 at the Middlesex County Fire Academy. “But we just keep moving.”

Based on which zone a property is placed in, a base flood elevation (BFE) is assigned to the home, according to Steven Ardito, insurance program specialist for FEMA Region II.

The relationship between the BFE and the elevation of the home determines the flood insurance premium a homeowner would pay, he said.

Andrew Horezga said he and his mother have been following the mapping changes since superstorm Sandy destroyed her home.

He said the design for the Horezgas’ new home is not just in compliance with the BFE specified by the new maps, but above and beyond. The new home, which received a height variance from the South Amboy Planning Board, will be more than 5 feet above the preliminary BFE for the property, earning them a deduction in insurance rates, he said.

“We just talked with the insurance agent here, and on the old house, we were paying about $3,000 per year for insurance,” Andrew Horezga said. “Now, on the new house, we’re looking at less than $600 per year.”

Residents sat with representatives at a bank of laptops, where they examined the new maps and discussed what the changes meant for them.

Federal, state and county officials were on hand to answer residents’ questions and provide insight into what steps they should take.

According to Thomas Song, community coordinator for FEMA Region II, the goal of the open house was to provide information to the public about how the changes in the flood maps would affect them.

“People should know their risk and know the actions they should take,” Song said. “This particular event is specific to residents so they can get their questions answered in some one-on-one time,” he said.

Overall, the risk of flooding has increased throughout the state and Middlesex County, Song said. The mapping project began in 2009 and was amended based on feedback from local officials and residents throughout the process, he added.

Residents who would see their flood insurance premiums increase due to the mapping changes might have some options to keep their rates manageable, according to Ardito, who was providing advice to residents about their specific circumstances at the open house.

Even if the required elevation has increased, Ardito said there are options available to keep insurance rates manageable for properties that are placed in a flood zone for the first time and those that are already in a flood zone where the elevation increased.

“It’s giving them some time to adjust,” Ardito said. “It’s relatively affordable.”

John Ferguson, county coordinator with the Middlesex County Office of Emergency Management, said his role has been that of liaison between state and federal officials and local communities.

“There are a lot of questions that people have, and it’s so much easier to ask them face to face,” Ferguson said. “It’s a big help.”

According to Ferguson, if there is demand within local communities, more open forums about the flood maps could be held.

“When I talk to the local coordinators, if they think that it was really worthwhile or there are more questions coming up, we’ll try to bring [FEMA and DEP representatives] back in again.”